by Ifeyani Awachie:
Lisa Lee, journalist, media professional, and blogger, gave a Master’s Tea at Branford College this Wednesday afternoon. Lee works in Product Operations at Facebook and worked until very recently as publisher of Hyphen, an Asian American community magazine. She also runs the blog “Thick Dumpling Skin” with actress Lynn Chen.
Lee got a job at Facebook after majoring in Theater Studies and Mass Communications at the University of California, Berkeley. It was while studying theater in college that she first discovered the excess of Asian stereotypes in the media. Lee got involved with Hyphen magazine while working at Facebook, when she realized that she desperately missed having a creative outlet. The name of the magazine refers to the difference between the two ways in which Americans of Asian descent express their identity: “Asian American” vs. “Asian-American.” Lee explained that those who use the hyphen feel very conscious of the two-sided nature of their cultural identity and the constant need to reconcile both sides. Those who don’t consider the hyphen necessary believe that there is nothing to reconcile—their identity is indivisibly Asian and American. At Hyphen magazine, the hyphen is not used. Lee explained that without the hyphen, Asian Americans are empowered to be Americans first and have the freedom to tack on “Asian” to further specify their cultural identity.
Hyphen magazine aims to give voice to a diversity of Asian identities. On the magazine’s cover and in its articles, Asians from all regions of the continent are featured. This is just one of the ways the magazine works to disestablish Asian stereotypes. Lee told the story about how, while she was working at the magazine, the video game company behind Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars approached Hyphen with a request to run advertisements for the game in one of their issues. The magazine said no to the game, which promotes several negative stereotypes of Asian Americans as well as women, but it was a hard decision to make. As such a small magazine, Hyphen could have benefited greatly from the money offered by the company, but in the end, their goal of authentically representing the Asian community won.
Lee’s blog, “Thick Dumpling Skin,” started when she was encouraged to share the story of her weight-loss journey. In the Asian American community, eating disorders are not openly talked about. Lee described how Asian American parents may feed their children food like dumplings—important culturally though not very healthy—but then criticize them if they put on weight. The conversation rarely moves beyond that criticism. Asian American children may develop serious eating disorders, and their parents may not recognize their disorders as real problems. Asian Americans—primarily females—are thus left to deal negative body images silently. Lee and her friend Chen created a space for discussion by starting the “Thick Dumpling Skin” blog on tumblr.com. Today, countless Asian American girls write to Lee, not only to share their struggles with her, but to thank her for giving them a chance to speak.